Tuesday, May 31, 2011

CAMRA: Campaign for a Real Argument

First off let me say I have no horse in this race. But, as an impartial observer from across the water, I've made a few observations. For those of you who don't know what CAMRA is, click here.

A little background might help at this point. Colin Valentine, CAMRA's president, gave a speech, at a member's weekend, about which, among other issues, he stated that "Of course the bloggerati are only interested in new things and 40 years of achievement means nothing as the best beer they have ever had is the next." You can read his statements here on page 10 of the CAMRA publication What's Brewing. Martyn Cornell, a CAMRA member I might add, then responded (as only Martyn can do) with a rebuke against Valentine here.

So, as an American, this is what I've noticed as a general response to the issue.

1. Nobody seems to be able to agree on what "craft beer" entails.

2. Valentine states "It's funny how all these people want us to change and adopt their latest idea and not start their own movement." It seems to me the movement has already started. CAMRA just happens to be on the receiving end.

3. Campaigning for real ale is one thing but campaigning for real ale and against keg beer, then saying that your not, takes the matter to a whole other level.

4. Beer bloggers have some influence. Why make the speech, otherwise?

5. CAMRA seems to be okay with bad beer as long as it's real.

6. Don't call Martyn a bloggerati, er, boggerato?

Most importantly, CAMRA seems to be missing an opportunity. Like it or not the bloggy interwebs are here to stay. Why not cultivate a relationship with people who do their fair share of drinking, and then go home tell the entire world about it? The whole thing seems counter-productive, but what do I know, I'm an American.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Gone for a Burton

Beer Party, July, 1944

I came across this photo a while back. I thought Memorial day was a good time to share it. The original image is from b26.com and titled Beer Party, July, 1944. The fellows are Orin Basco (center) and Frank Sharp (left), Crew Chief of the Martin B-26, Dragon Wagon. These guys were part of the USAAF, 391st Bomb Group, 574th Bomb Squadron operating out of RAF Matching Green; an airfield north of London.

The photo is beery enough and the barrels dated July 25 — marked with an X, noting their mild ale contents — are wonderful in and of themselves. However, what really strikes me about this image is the crew's sense of normalcy. A quick break on a summer's day for a beer. A nice gesture by a local brewery for the Yanks on the Green. But, it wasn't just a break for a beer. It was a break from the sight of a limping bomber returning home through grey English skies. A break from the howl of ambulances as they skittered across the green grass edging the tarmac. A break from the smell of burning oil and rubber, gunpowder and airplane exhaust. A break from olive drab metal ripped by shrapnel and riddled by bullets. A break from the cries and moans of injured men, rising over the sputter of propellers slowing to a stop. A break from blood, burns and bandages. A break from jeeps strapped with liters, carrying off the broken bodies of dead and wounded friends. A break from the nightmares, that they knew would come later that night, just like the night before. A break from the war.

Just for a fleeting moment, those ten ounces of sweet mild ale, drank from their canteen cups, would help those crewmen forget the war, and Germany, and being away from home. Any break, any sense of normality, had to have been a godsend. The photo doesn't show those men at war, it shows them in war. Drinking that little X ale was a simple act of ordinariness during extraordinary circumstances.

Three days before Christmas 1944, a German fighter plane would eviscerate the Dragon Wagon; blasting 20mm rounds through her engines and thin aluminum skin. Five of her crew jettisoned themselves from the collapsing aircraft — floating on parachutes to the snowy Belgian fields below. Her pilot, 2nd Lieutenant Jack Haynes, would not.

On this Memorial Day, while your drinking your beer and having your cook-outs. Please, raise your glass to the men and women who have sacrificed themselves, so we do not have to. A toast to those who have just gone for a Burton.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

DRANK: Widmer Hefeweizen, Widmer Brothers Brewing Company, Portland, OR - BOTTLE

Cut the grass, clean out the garage, move the wood, fix the front door and remove the front steps handrail. If any day was purpose built to drink beer it was Saturday. After all the hard work what better way to reward oneself than with a pig roast? Dueling birthdayists Roland and Judy rang in their fortieth in both porkified and beery good fashion; offering an eclectic mix of Oskar Blue's Dale's Pale and Butternuts Porkslap Pale Ales, a cornelius keg of Lake Placid Brewery's Ubu Ale and bottles of two lagered treats from Polska—Tyskie and Lech. These must have been all chosen by Judy, she apparently has a nose for such things. At one time, the beer may have been Roland's responsibility, but he was a bit busy jumping over the house. Anyway, it was malted good time, indeed.

Earlier in the day however, I took advantage of an alignment of occurrences. High outdoor temperatures, a sweaty brow, and a refrigerator keeping a hefeweizen nice and chilly. Now I've said before that wheat beers are good, but not my favorite. Nevertheless, they do get to spend a bit of time in the spotlight on days like yesterday.

Off came the cap and instantly I was rewarded with the pheonlic signature of hefeweizens—banana. It's not overpowering, but enough to let you know what your in store for. The beer poured smooth and thick, it's foggy straw color reminding me of creamed honey. A mass of white foam crept towards the top of the weisse glass as the hefe's hazy body settled out. As I took a long taste, a slight citric orangeinees hit the front of my tongue. It's body was smooth and dense, and as I held it in my mouth I noted a slight nuttiness, like whole grain bread, followed by dry cidery crispness. As I continued on my wheaty journey, delicate ribbons of foam clung to the side of the tapered vessle. I wasn't drinking particularly fast, but the lacing continued to hang in suspension until the last of the honey colored liquid was gone.

All in all a good beer day. I can't wait to see what's in store for the rest of the holiday weekend!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

DRANK: Avalanche Amber Ale, Breckenridge Brewery, Denver, CO - BOTTLE

"I'll have a pint of bitter."

No six words in the English language give me more joy to utter. Ordinary, Special or Extra Special, I hold all in equal esteem. The act of simply drinking a bitter, for me, is sublime. Porters are perfect and Dunkles divine, but there is a soft spot in my heart for a proper English bitter. I've had what I can get — Wells Bombardier, Coniston's Blue Bird, Greene King Abbott Ale, Adnams – and there in lies the problem, accessibility.  You'd think, between Mahar's and Oliver's, I'd be content. Well, I'm not. At some point demand starts to out weigh supply and that's when I get cranky. Simply put, there isn't enough bitter in Albany. Now, I know what you're going to say, "Why not try one of America's bitter offerings?" You're right, we brew some great English-style stuff here in the good ol' US of A. Unfortunately, they always seem to miss the mark. Something isn't quite right.

That is until now. (That was quite Top Gear, wasn't it?)

The cap popped off with decidedly less pop than I expected. Tipping the bottle, the burnt amber beer slid into my pint glass. It settled very quickly leaving the thinest film of bubbles clinging to one another. A wonderfully sweet and bready fragrance rose from the glass. An aroma of raisins and nutmeg filled my nose as I brought the glass up for the first sip. The carbonation was low and allowed for the full flavor of the malt to step forward. My first notion was of graham crackers, then deepening to shortbread, like the kind that comes in a blue tin. Sweeter notes of vanilla and caramel were offset by the dry tang of green grapes. The hops brought a mild bitterness and an earthy grassiness to the party which became more noticeable as I continued to drink. Now here's the  deal sealer, the one thing that makes this one taste like a spot on English bitter—Cardboard.  Pleasant sounding, isn't it? An earthy taste, like cardboard or wet paper is indicative of oxidized beer. Normally that's a bad thing, who wants stale beer? It's also a common characteristic of beer pulled from a hand pump, like those used in the UK. Pumps use suction rather than carbon dioxide to force the beer through a tap. Each pull introduces a little oxygen into the beer, causing a chemical reaction, resulting in staled beer. However, a little goes a long way and heavily oxidized beer is downright yucky. Breckenridge seems to have found the right balance, and Avalanche hits all the right notes. It might not be Chiswick, but it looks like Colorado runs a close second in bitter making!   

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Not you too, Mr. Koch!

Why do people feel the need to justify beer to wine? I've run into two examples this week alone. The first on Alan's blog and the second on the Washington Post's website. The first one, about brewing beer for women as an alternative to wine, is just dopey. The second one, oh the second one is just inexcusable. Perennial, craft beer jingoist, and Sam Adam's own, Jim Koch gave a kick to the scrotum of all beer lovers on Bloomberg Television's InBusiness With Margaret Brennan. Koch first speaks on the cost of brewing and his companies efforts to help smaller breweries get operational. He then goes on to say that the increase in craft brew sales is because... Wait for it... Beer is the new wine.


If people need to think that wine is more sophisticated, or that they are for drinking it, than by all means, do so. Nevertheless, let's keep beer out of the fray. Beer is good, because it's good, not because of it's station in the world. Craft beer sales are up because breweries are producing beer that folks want to drink. It's not because some trendy magazine or news program says so. Beer has never been about elitism, although some have tried to make it that way, beer has always been of and for the people.

He may not realize it, but his comments undermine craft-brewing. Koch may want beer to be the new wine, but beer might not.

Serving all types since 1991

The summer after Zoe was born, Amy and I took a much need vacation to the seaside town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I knew almost nothing about the tiny hamlet other than one of my favorite breweries, Portsmouth Brewery, operated there. That alone sold me on the trip, but it didn't hurt that Amy loves fresh seafood and the opportunity to shop. So, off in the cah to New Hamp-shah, we went.

What a gem that little town turned out to be. Cobbled avenues, with homes built right against the water. Market Street, the main drag in town, is lined with eclectic shops and eateries. It's a town, meant to be walked through. One of the highlights of the trip was the outdoor, American roots music concert in Prescott Park. Hugging the Piscataqua River, the quaint park hosted a rockin' night of roots music — supplied by the Molenes and Guns, Girls & Glory. That town was a true slice of Americana.

Needless to say, I have a soft spot in my heart for Portsmouth. When I came across this little tidbit, I smiled. Peter Eggleston has done a phenomenal job with Portsmouth Brewery over the last two decades. Their Murphy's Law Red, Milk Stout and Altbier are tremendous. Portmouth's sister company, Smuttynose offers Old Brown Dog Brown Ale and a Robust Porter, both top my all-time-favorites list.

The craftsmanship and dedication to beer is amazing, but what really sets Portsmouth apart from other breweries, is their sense of community. I can't imagine the entire city has much more than 20,000 residents, and the brewery has really grabbed onto that small town vibe. They've become part of the fabric of town, sponsoring events and having a Community Pint Night, where 25¢ of every pint sold is donated to charity.

My recommendation is to pack the car, the kids and the cooler for a road trip to the Granite State. Birthday events start on Wednesday, June 1 and continue until Saturday the 5th. At the very least pick-up a sixer and raise a glass to a brewery that's been doing the right thing for twenty years!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

New posts

Keep your eyes out. I'll be transfering the posts I've done on Facebook to our new home, here on blogspot.

UPDATE: I've decided to let technology work for me. Old reviews are now linked!
Full Sail IPA
Samuel Adams East-West Kölsch
Shipyard Brewer's Brown Ale
Brown's ESB 
Wolaver's Wildflower Wheat
Davidson Brothers IPA
Simcoe Spring Ale
Coney Island Lager

Well, would you look at that.

I knew it would eventually come to this, it's not all that bad, really. It's roomy in the shoulders and I can put the pool table over there, in the corner.

A few weeks back I said to myself, "The web needs another blog." By my count there's only a handful of blogs out there, and almost none about beer. A void needs to be filled, and I'm just the opinionated, loud-mouth to do it. I'm not a journalist, hell I'm not even a writer! Don't expect things like correct grammar or spelling. My sentences will run-on, I'll make up words and my participles will dangle. None of that is either here nor there. What's important is: We will be talking about beer.

Anyway, let me tell you what this little endeavor is all about. As I said, I'm going to write about beer. Great beer, good beer and bad beer; Pubs, bars, taverns and dives; Commercial brewing, home brewing, macro, micro and nano brewing. Anything and everything that may, at first, not appear to have the remotest relation to the zythomatic arts, (I just made that word up) but can be scrambled and reinterpreted for my beery needs, is fair game.

So, if you are willing to make the biggest mistake of your life get on board, pull up a comfy chair, and lets waste some time on the internet.